SALINAS MAKES STATEMENT WITH GAINESVILLE WIN
During the offseason, Mike Salinas had one mission for his Scrappers Racing team: Find more performance.
While that sort of request is common in a sport that is measured in thousandths of a second, how it is accomplished was a bit of an anomaly. Following the final pass of the 2022 season in Pomona, Calif., Salinas handed the reins of his 11,000-horsepower dragster to his team and fully stepped away from the decision-making process.
The result? A victory at the season-opening Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
Salinas won a titanic duel with four-time world champion Steve Torrence in the final, while also adding a round win over reigning world champion and top overall qualifier Brittany Force. That allowed him to collect the eighth Wally of his career and his first at historic Gainesville Raceway.
“During the offseason, I told my guys, ‘You’ve got a long offseason. I need you to find me some horsepower. Find me some mile-an-hour and let’s not talk until it is time to go racing,’” Salinas said. “Evidently, they found it. We came and did some testing and ran some amazing numbers. The track wasn’t good enough to run them this weekend, but in testing we did some world-record numbers, so we knew we had something really good for the class.”
In that final-round showdown, Torrence got away first and set off on a clean run toward the finish line. But Salinas made up that ground by the 330-foot mark and never trailed again behind the wheel of his Scrappers Racing dragster, recording a 3.700-second pass at 330.31 mph in a photo-finish to collect the win. Torrence was just behind with a 3.754 at 333.82 mph in his Capco Contractors machine.
“Steve and I have been jousting for years, so it was like let’s see what we can do with him and let’s have some fun,” Salinas said. “Our car was very consistent. Rob (Flynn) and Arron (Cave) did a great job with the car, and the runs were nice and clean. I’m really relaxed in the car right now and having a great time. But I will tell you when we won, I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Because these wins are hard to come by.”
In such a close matchup, Salinas doubled down on his effort against Torrence, keeping his foot in the throttle well past the 1,000-foot race distance to assure the trophy went home with him.
“I drove my car to the 1,320 because I wasn’t stopping,” Salinas said. “My crew chief tells me I’ve got to stop doing that, but every run I drove it through the 1,320 even though I’m not supposed to. To be honest, the car was so good and I could hear some of them coming -- and I could hear Steve, so I kept in it. Really the car was just amazing today, just perfect.”
To add to what was already a very successful week in Florida, Sunday’s matchup with Torrence was actually Salinas’ second final round of the weekend. Just 24-hours prior, Salinas fell in the final of the Pep Boys NHRA All-Star Top Fuel Callout specialty race to Josh Hart.
So what was the difference between the two results? Lane choice.
“Yesterday, the right lane was amazing and the left lane was not good at all. Today, the right lane was amazing again so I’m trying to cut a good light. I’m trying to shallow stage. I have to get lane choice for the next round,” Salinas explained. “So for a guy like me who is not that great on the light sometimes, every run I’ve got to (do some things) to get back into the game. Today I got lane choice every round. That was the difference.
"Getting lane choice over Brittany, for me, was a big deal. That kid is good and she’s no joke. She’s a world champion. And then I get to play with Steve in the last one. I’m telling you, they threw me to the lions. You just have to put your guard up and battle them one at a time.”
In that other marquee matchup, Salinas simply outperformed the reigning NHRA Top Fuel world champion with a solid run from point A to point B. Salinas had a 3.699, 334.32 mph in the second-round matchup with the top qualifier, and Force's 3.758, 332.75 simply wasn't enough.
In the semifinal, Salinas was again up to the task against Tony Stewart Racing’s Leah Pruett, powering to a 3.727, 332.67 to reach his first final round since Las Vegas in the fall. Salinas added a 3.669, 334.82 mph, in his other competitive pass in a win over Justin Ashley.
Torrence reached his 82nd final round with wins over Scott Palmer, Tony Schumacher and Doug Kalitta.
It was an auspicious start for Salinas, a 61-year-old California native, but one he expected after placing such a heavy burden on his team in the offseason. While he stopped short of giving his team a blank check with the car, he admits that he knew the team he has assembled could be successful and fiscally responsible at the same time.
“What we were lacking, it really didn’t take money, it took ability,” Salinas said. “Rob Flynn has it. Arron Cave has it. They came up with some amazing stuff for the car this year and I think we’re going to run really hard all year long.”
Salinas also reiterated that he did not check in on the team during the offseason, instead leaving it to them to find the magic sauce.
“When you get a repairman to come to your house to fix a sink, why would you tell them how to do it?,” Salinas added. “I hired that man to do a job, why would I stick my nose in there? I walk in, tell them ‘good morning’ and they tell me it is time to warm up the car. We leave people alone and let them do their job.”
After the race, Salinas was reflective of just how far this team has come since it debuted just a few years ago. From struggling to make the show to beating the marquee drivers in the sport, Salinas said that there is just something magical about this team that he hopes can propel him to special things in 2023.
“You don’t ever forget where you come from,” Salinas said. “This is the stuff people dream of. I’ve been dreaming of this stuff all my life, and I go home and I’ll sit there and watch these races -- and after it’s over, I still don’t believe it is me.
“I’m growing as a driver. I’m still learning so many different things. These people out here, they’ve been doing this for years. I’m a businessman and I get to come out and play with them.”
But Salinas is no longer just a novelty act in the class, he is a real threat to win as he proved this weekend with two final rounds in two days against the best drivers in the world.
“These guys, you better have your 'A' game. You better come to fight with them,” Salinas said. “But here’s what I will tell you: They’re all beatable. They’re all beatable if you control yourself, maintain your composure and your people, (let) your crew do their job. It’s just kind of special what we have right now.”